Day visit visas show how UAE could bring about a tourism boom

The National - News - - EMIRATES NEWS - JAMES LANGTON

It is said that one of the ben­e­fits of a stopover is that it is like hav­ing two flights for one ticket. For pas­sen­gers on Ice­landic Air, back in the 1950s, this was very much the case.

The air­line had one li­cence to fly to North Amer­ica and an­other that al­lowed it to fly to Europe. For an air­line with de­signs on the lu­cra­tive and fast-grow­ing North At­lantic route, this was a prob­lem.

The so­lu­tion would turn a tiny is­land in the mid­dle of the ocean into an in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tion and cre­ate the con­cept of a stopover as a ma­jor source of tourist cash.

About 2 mil­lion peo­ple visit Ice­land ev­ery year, in a coun­try with a pop­u­la­tion of less than 350,000. Tourism ac­counts for one third of its rev­enue and em­ploys one in 12 in the work­force.

Ice­land’s lessons have not been lost on the rest of the world, with na­tional air­lines of­fer­ing a chance to visit their home coun­tries to pas­sen­gers who might oth­er­wise see only the in­side of a tran­sit ter­mi­nal.

Dubai has long been a stopover cen­tre but its new plan to of­fer day visas to na­tion­al­i­ties that would pre­vi­ously have had to ap­ply well in ad­vance could bring a re­newed tourism boom.

Sin­ga­pore, Por­tu­gal, Tur­key and Canada have de­vel­oped stopover pro­grammes with their air­lines. Eti­had Air­ways has done the same for Abu Dhabi, with the only re­stric­tion un­til now be­ing pas­sen­gers en­ti­tled to a visa on en­try.

Three years ago, Sin­ga­pore added US$15 mil­lion (Dh55m) into its tourism bud­get, with an em­pha­sis on stopover guests. As a re­sult, the coun­try’s earn­ings last year from tourism rose by nearly 14 per cent, to US$20 bil­lion

With Sun­day’s an­nounce­ment that stopovers would be avail­able to all na­tion­al­i­ties, the UAE will be able to fully ben­e­fit from its po­ten­tial.

An­drea Bai­ley, from Dubai’s Travel Coun­sel­lors, said the new plan would boost tourism.

“With the hype around Dubai Expo 2020 that’s hap­pen­ing at the mo­ment we have a lot of in­bound tourism, which I be­lieve last year set record num­bers, even in the sum­mer time, mak­ing use of the deals that run through­out the sum­mer,” Ms Bai­ley said.

“This is def­i­nitely go­ing to help those who are tran­sit­ing and us­ing Emi­rates and Eti­had any­way as a stop, just to give them the in­cen­tive to go out there and get a feel for Dubai and maybe plan to come back and see it again. It will give them a great pre­view of the city.”

Manoj Balakr­ish­nan, the mar­ket­ing man­ager of Abu Dhabi’s Bin Moosa Travel, said: “It’s def­i­nitely go­ing to have a high im­pact on travel and tourism.”

Many pas­sen­gers from In­dia to the US, trav­el­ling through the UAE, were de­terred from stay­ing over for a few days be­cause of the high visa fees, Mr Balakr­ish­nan said.

“So my ques­tion is, what is the fee go­ing to be? We will pre­pare some pack­ages when the full news is out.”

First pri­or­i­ties for In­dian vis­i­tors would be to see rel­a­tives liv­ing in the UAE but then also tak­ing the chance to see at­trac­tions.

“Be­fore peo­ple couldn’t ex­pe­ri­ence this be­cause of the visa is­sue,” Mr Balakr­ish­nan said.

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